Heartless criminals are profiting from the jump in demand for puppies and designer breeds created by the Covid-19 lockdown, with some owners now scared to even let pets out for a pee
Dognappers are making the lives of pet owners a nightmare as more animals are being stolen and sold at premium prices. So what can you do to protect your animal.
While true dog lovers could never put a price on our pets, some heartless criminals have no such problem.
Charities such as the DSPCA and Dogs Trust Ireland are warning that a major increase in canine theft is one of Covid-19’s most upsetting side-effects.
Exact figures are hard to come by since An Garda Siochana believes at least some cases go unreported, but Department of Justice statistics show there were 145 in 2018, 210 last year and 120 so far this year.
“It has got so bad,” says Lynne Cullen, who runs the Facebook page Missing Dogs Ireland. “They’re being snatched across the country, taken from people’s gardens. People can’t even let their dogs out to pee.”
A small number end up as bait in the barbaric and illegal sport of dog fighting. On a happier note, others get returned quickly because the culprit is hoping to collect a reward.
However, in the vast majority of cases, stolen dogs are sent to puppy farms, exported to Britain or sold online.
Research from Dogs Trust Ireland shows we now have a click and collect culture, with 20pc of buyers enquiring about an animal and then picking it up on the same day.
It’s all about supply and demand. During the lockdown, many people naturally decided they would like a puppy to keep them company.
Unfortunately, this sent prices through the roof and made dogs a more attractive target than ever for thieves.
Popular breeds are being sold for between five and 10 times their normal value, while designer crossbreeds such as cockapoos or labradoodles can fetch up to €3,000.
So far, there’s no obvious pattern. Some thefts are opportunistic, but others appear to be highly organised.
There have been reports of unmarked vans lurking around beforehand, while Ballyboughal Community Council says thieves are putting coloured cable ties and ribbons on gates to tell their accomplices there’s a dog in the house.
Essentially, they’re places where people breed dogs on a large scale for commercial purposes. Puppy farmers often don’t bother to vaccinate them, and as a result the dogs are likely to die young.
As for the mothers, they’re treated purely as baby-making machines and killed when they’ve outlived their usefulness.
To our shame, Ireland is now internationally known as the puppy farm capital of Europe.
Officially, we have 73 dog breeding establishments producing around 30,000 pups a year, but the true figure is probably much higher. Premises with fewer than six breeders are not obliged to register anyway.
Several horrific cases have been exposed here, typically involving terrified dogs packed tightly in filthy conditions, suffering from untreated diseases and not given enough food or water.
“Never have I seen such extreme suffering on such a scale,” ISPCA chief inspector Conor Dowling wrote in his 2019 report about an investigation that resulted in a Co Carlow farmer being sent to jail for three years.
“We discovered a number of dead animals around the property, some of which were used to feed the dogs.”
To be fair, there have been some positive developments in recent years.
Last January, a new law banned the sale of dogs under eight-weeks-old and ordered that all adverts must include microchip numbers so lost animals can be easily identified.
According to the ISPCA, however, our main problem with puppy farms is not so much a lack of regulations, it’s that local authorities don’t have nearly enough inspectors to enforce them.
It costs around €50,000 a year to keep an inspector on the road, and the ISPCA itself is so under-funded that it can only cover 17 counties.
In response to the crime wave, Fianna Fail TD James Browne has started campaigning for tougher punishments.
As he points out, the current law treats dogs like any other property and takes no account of what they mean to people on an emotional level.
“I am proposing the creation of a new offence called the theft of a companion animal,” Browne says, adding that the worst offenders should be put in jail.
That’s impossible to measure. For most owners, the pain caused by not knowing what has happened is far worse than if the animal had simply died.
Here are a few quotes from recent victims that make their distress clear.
“Jack is my mam’s baby. She’s absolutely distraught without him, as we all are. We’re not eating, we’re not sleeping. We’re petrified that he’s fretting and he’s upset and he doesn’t understand why he’s not with us any more.”
And this: “I can’t get a picture of Louie out of my head, he has never had a hair on his head harmed, he was happy and spoiled by me and the kids and now all I can think about is what they might be doing to him.”
Here’s another heartbreaker: “Brandy is more than just a dog – he’s my reason to get up in the morning.”
The good news is that there are many ways to get help.
Anyone whose dog goes missing should contact An Garda Siochana, their local warden and every vet in the area.
Along with the old-fashioned method of putting up posters, you can also put a photo on websites such as lostdogs.ie and lostandfoundpets.ie.
As all true dog lovers know, their reputation as “man’s best friend” is unquestionable, so they deserve every action we can possibly take to bring them home.